With several of its partially finished songs kicking around for more than a decade, local roots rock band Ox has finally released their latest album, Ktel, on digital platforms.
Band leader Mark Browning took his time crafting the album, which is their first since 2011.
The end result?
It sounds like the country-twinged Ox albums of yore, but “a little bit tighter than some of my other stuff,” Browning told Sudbury.com the day after releasing “Ktel” earlier this month.
“I’m really happy with it,” he added. “It was exorcising the demon.”
Ox formed in Vancouver more than 20 years ago, and released their first album, Dust Bowl Revival, in 2003.
A few albums followed, capped by Tuco, the soundtrack for a movie never released, in 2011.
A few years after their debut album, Browning relocated to his hometown of Sudbury, tired of spending all his money on a basement apartment in Vancouver he barely spent time in.
He started a family, opened a record shop (Cosmic Dave’s Vinyl Emporium on Kathleen Street) and Tuco’s Taco Lounge across the street (named after the Ox album), and maintains a recording studio on Elgin Street.
Ox has kept at it with occasional performances headed by a current lineup of Browning (guitars, vocals), Ryan Levecque (guitar, piano, backing vocals), Chris “Pepper” Peplinski (bass) and Mark “Dutch” Koetsier (drums), with honourable mention going to drummer Spencer Jose, who recently stepped back to pursue solo projects.
The band started work on a follow-up album to Tuco shortly after its 2011 release, but shelved it.
“I started working on it, and I had my first kid, and I don’t know; I was tired,” Browning said. “I was burnt out. I was really feeling like I’d been on a treadmill, and you put out one record and you’re immediately working on the next one, and you do all the work to promote everything.”
Others helped along the way, but Browning said he did much of the work, including booking shows and planning tours, himself, which only added to the burnout.
He kept a burned CD of some of the songs that would later be released on Ktel, which his kids would listen to on occasion and keep fresh in his mind.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Ox started playing together again as a band.
“We were starting to really have fun with it, so between that and feeling that the songs that we started should be finished, made me go through some of my older stuff,” Browning said.
Having rediscovered the songs, Browning hunkered down in the studio to finish it off, recording most of the instruments himself, with some appearances by bandmates making their way into the final record.
“I wasn’t in a hurry, I felt like it’s been 12 years, who cares if it takes another year?” Browning said. “I was letting myself do things that I never used to be able to do.”
The first mix felt too polished, so Browning spent another few months fine-tuning it into a finished product he’s happy with.
Local filmmaker Shawn Kosmo turned the first single, Aerostar, into a light-spirited music video featuring the green-screened band making their way through Greater Sudbury sites.
The song plays homage to the band’s early touring vehicle.
“It was a funny vehicle, because it’s like a total minivan, a soccer mom van ... but we got to get quite an affection for it,” Browning said.
Kosmo also filmed a yet-to-be-released video for the hard-rocking song, Kung Fu.
The album’s title, and its second track, “Ktel Records,” pays homage to the K-Tel record company, which is best known for its compilation albums.
These and other songs tap into the album’s career-encompassing nostalgic feeling.
Even the album’s release, seemingly out of nowhere and without the same promotional efforts which accompany many bands’ release dates, harkened back to their 2003 debut.
“I didn’t really do that one right either,” Browning said of Dust Bowl Revival, adding that his main concern was getting the music out there. In the case of Ktel, the songs had been playing through his head and the album had been partially completed for so long that he didn’t want to wait any longer.
Browning said he’s working on a vinyl release for Ktel, and might even issue a cassette tape.
A tour won’t happen for at least a few months, though Browning said he was looking at some dates in the spring and is considering a tour of Eastern Canada.
“There will be another album, I’ve got another one in me, for sure,” Browning said, noting that Ktel was pared down to 11 songs from its original 15 due to some not fitting the album’s vibe.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.